Monthly Archives: August 2017

“The Mountains Sing Together for Joy”

My wife and I were in Colorado recently. Living on the aptly named “high plains” of Texas, at a tad over 3,800 feet in our particular part of those plains, we’ve got a pretty good start on altitude already. But I discovered long ago that my soul requires regular doses of much higher altitude, the kind that comes only with mountains.

I love mountains in general, but I was ready for a good dose of some Colorado mountains. And, of course, if you want to go up Pikes Peak, and that is exactly what we wanted, and if that incredible peak has not wandered off or been misplaced, Colorado is your destination. If you also like trains, and I do, a Cog Railway ride up Pikes Peak wonderfully answers both needs: mountains and rails. A win-win situation.

The history of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, “the highest railroad ever built in the USA,” and the description of the engineering involved is pretty incredible. On the way up the hill we learned that most “normal” trains bump into the laws of physics and are unable to handle grades of more than about 4%. I’m told that 3.3% at Raton, New Mexico, is the steepest grade in the U.S. for “normal” trains. Because of the Cog Railways “cog” system, a gear-like intermesh between track and locomotive, those trains can climb up grades as steep as 26%.

You’d have to work hard to find vistas and scenery more incredible than the mixture of green and granite, azure blue and gleaming snow, adorning those hills and peaks. What I particularly like are the switchbacks where a passenger turned photographer finds himself literally rounding the bend and gasping at the beauty of each new scene stretching to the horizon.

Oohs and aahs and wows echo through the train car, and you find your mind almost derailed as it was still trying to wrap itself around the magnificence of the last vista, but now you’ve chugged up and around and, voilà!, our Creator has painted another masterpiece before the paint was dry on the last one!

I found myself thinking of the folks who had made their way up that mountain long before the train was available. The trip, I’m told, was a two-day affair on a mule, if the weather and the mule cooperated and all went well. It was after Zalmon Simmons, “inventor and founder” of the famous mattress company, made the trip on a mule in the 1880s that “there has to be a better way” led to the beginning of the construction of the cog railway in 1889. For chronological snobs (like most of us), that’s a reminder that “modern” and “amazing feats of engineering” are not terms that have to be coupled on the same track.

Coming down Pikes Peak is at least as much a challenge for the trains as going up. Redundant brake systems and procedures are checked often, for which I was thankful.

Going up, coming down, rounding the next turn—we never know in life exactly what is coming. Amazing beauty. Deep joy. Searing pain. This challenge or that obstacle.

But we can rest assured that our Creator is good, all-powerful, and all-loving. In their Creator’s presence, the “mountains sing together for joy” (Psalm 98:8). They always have. They always will.

And our God forever sings with joy over his children.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

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“What About Folks on the Other Side of the Fence?”

“Teacher,” John the Apostle said to Jesus, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us” (see Mark 9:38).

The disciples were royally ticked. They were absolutely indignant, and who can blame them? They’d discovered a fellow casting out demons without a license. They’d uncovered a do-gooder doing good without a permit.

Now John was reporting the infraction and evidently looking for an “Attaboy!” from the Lord for putting a stop to this unlicensed demon-removal.

You’ve gotta give it to John—he was absolutely ahead of his time and thoroughly modern. How could he have known? The time would come when Christians would take morbid delight in dividing and subdividing, walling themselves off, separating one group from another behind massive walls built of the bricks and mortar of hatred and ignorance.

The walls would not only effectively obscure their view of any good being done by folks on the other side of the particular wall obscuring their own field of vision, those walls would also keep them from seeing anything that others who also love the Lord might even be seeing more clearly.

If he’d been allowed to keep that walled-off attitude, the Apostle John could have become the patron saint of any number of modern folks whose toxic approach to religion motivates them to be absolutely proud of small-minded divisiveness and who expect an “Attaboy!” from Christ for doggedly clinging to incredibly stunted and spirit-withering views of the folks they barely acknowledge on the other sides of the unholy walls they’ve built.

But John didn’t get a pat on the back. Instead he got a word of correction from the Lord: “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said, and (I’m paraphrasing), here’s why:

1) No one who does good works in my name is likely to say anything bad about me in the next breath.

2) Anyone who is not against us is for us, and that’s a very good thing!

3)  And, in fact, anyone who does good to my people will be sure to be rewarded.

“Don’t stop him!” Be glad for the good being done.

John learned a lesson that day, and he seems to have learned it well because it is in John’s Gospel that Jesus’ beautiful prayer, truly “the Lord’s Prayer,” a prayer that Christ’s modern disciples have largely ignored, is recorded. John recalls Jesus’ deep desire for his disciples as Christ prays to the Father, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).

What is Christ’s attitude toward other groups of his people outside of our own doing good in his name?

We don’t have to wonder.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


“Short Words Are Best” and Three Are Best of All

“Short words are best,” asserted Winston Churchill, “and the old words when short are best of all.”

So may I suggest three—very short and very old which when lined up and strung together are the best three that could possibly be.

GOD IS LOVE.

These words are chiseled into the rock, woven into the fabric, of the universe. More than that, if anything could be more, they are living and implanted by the Author of life into its every cell, resonating in every breath and heartbeat. How could we not feel the life of those three short words pulsing all around us? Ah, perhaps in part because they are so much around us that we live in them and swim in them like fish enlivened by but largely oblivious to the very thing that gives them life.

God is love.

Note that in this short, old, and every morning new, equational sentence, the verb, the multiplier, and the fulcrum is IS, to BE. Yes, eternally. And, yes, of course, the “great I AM” will always be and will always be exactly what He always is, love.

Those three words mean that as long as our Father wills the universe to be, the stars to twinkle, the worlds to spin—if packed in every grain of sand on every sea-washed beach was a million years and all of those mini-mega-grains were stretched across creation at attention in single sand-soldier file—the dance of the cosmos, the symphony of space, and the music of the spheres, will still play on because God is GOD, and God always IS, and God will always be LOVE.

The order of the short word-cars on this magnificent train matters immensely. “God is love” is a breathtaking stream flowing with the life of the Creator and wash-singing, joy-splashing, over every rock and crevasse of the universe. “Love is god” is an idolatrous sludge defiling its worshipers and leaving a black trail of death, desolation, and the tears of despairing children in its sad and slimy wake. The first sings with the life of the Creator; the latter stagnates and festers in the stench of death-ridden darkness.

And, yes, in a fallen, sin-sick, and sadly twisted world, darkness is real and too often seems utterly pervasive. But no eclipse is forever. The sun’s corona glows around the blackness, impatient to blaze again unfettered, and we have the promise of Eden’s Creator that one day unending joy will again be the watchword of the universe. The first Adam fell, and we see the wreckage and the pain, but Adam’s word is not the last.

Because of the three short words that find their fruition, culmination, and crowning glory in the one Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Does it sometimes, even often, seem unbearably dark? One Word “shines in the darkness” and will banish it forever, all because of the three short words: God is love.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“I Will Lift Up My Eyes to the Hills”

 

Something about the mountains my soul needs regularly and loves always. There’s just something about gaining altitude, heading up!

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills,” writes the psalmist as he beautifully affirms that all of his “help comes from the Lord” (Psalm 121).

Reading the Gospels, I feel some sweet altitudinal affirmation when I read about Jesus “going up on the mountainside” to pray. Of course, we can pray and receive strength from our Father at any and all altitudes. But “up” seems a particularly good direction to go for the strength needed to deal with life back “down there.”

It’s no accident that it was up on a “high mountain” that Jesus was “transfigured” before the wide eyes of Peter, James, and John as that clear, crisp mountain air blazed with God’s glory.

What’s really needed, of course, is for us to ask God to help us live with our eyes open. But life just seems to run a lot better when our eyes are pointed in an upward direction.

Even in the muck and the mire of a sin-sick and fallen world, if we can find the strength to look up in the midst of the darkness, we see God’s stars, and their silvery light spells hope.

When our souls are oppressed by the weight of 24-hour news, much of it bad (and at least 23 hours more than we need), if we’ll just wash our hearts out with beautiful music, we’ll find that music can be God’s blessing to lift us up, if only for a few moments, to a much higher, more beautiful place.

When we’re disappointed and hurt by human failures—not least, our own—and we’re feeling bent over under the accumulated weight of the weakness that has appalled us yet again, often that’s exactly when God’s Spirit can use our bending to be the first step toward our bowing. Then in worship our eyes are lifted up to the sinless One dying to carry all of our sins—past, present, and future—away from us forever.

To accept that sacrifice and live in the light of that truth is blessing and uplift indeed, in the highlands, the lowlands, or the plains.

But I find myself especially “lifted up” and thankful to have opened my eyes in the mountains on this particular morning, the start of almost a week in the hills. And it’s easy for me to echo the words of John Muir: “Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.”

Yes, the mountain peaks seem to point up to God like the spires of a cathedral.

The majesty of the mountains reminds us of the majesty of God.

The seemingly timeless face of a mountain reminds us of the timeless permanence of God.

The enormity of the mountain reminds us of the vastness of God.

The awesome power of the mountain reminds us of the unshakeable strength of God.

Yes, indeed, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills.”

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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